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Bodyrecomposition Mailbag 11

And yet another mailbag

Too Much Cardio Followup

In the last mailbag, I addressed the question of what defines too much cardio.  In response to that I got the following question that will let me address a few relevant issues.

Isn’t to some extent, exactly what The Biggest Loser folks do? Restrictive diet in the 1k-1.5K calorie range, and then extremely high volume, low-medium intensity cardio for hours and hours? Essentially burn 2K or so cals in 4-5 hours of various stupid cardio activities and be 2K or so under Sedentary maintenance calories with their diet? Trying to make a 3.5k+ deficit every day?

Now I’ve written about the Biggest Loser before, along with having had the privilege of receiving some feedback from an ex-contestant.    In a similar vein I have also written extensive series on training the obese beginner.  However, I didn’t really address the question above.  That is, why don’t the BL contestants seem to have problems with massive activity levels and low calories.

Initial Body fat Levels, Leptin and Metabolic Slowdown

A major factor impacting on all aspects of physiology including body composition changes is initial body fat.  The short version on that topic is that the higher your initial body fat percentage, the more fat and less lean body mass you will lose when you diet.   Similarly, the leaner you are, the less fat and more lean body mass tends to be lost.  But initial BF% determines a lot more than just this.

As anybody who has read one of my books is aware, the hormone leptin is very much related to body fat levels (caloric intake also plays a role as does the type of body fat but that’s more detail than I want to cover here).  Simply, the more body fat you carry, the higher your leptin levels and vice versa.  Why is this important?

There has been a long running debate in the research literature over whether or not the body shows an adaptive decrease in metabolic rate with fat loss.   Some studies say there is and others do not and researchers can carefully select which studies they use to draw the conclusion they want.  And while most would throw their hands up and say science is bullshit, this isn’t the right way to approach it.  Rather, by looking at the studies that do and don’t find an adaptive response, a pattern shows up.

When you look at the data set as a whole, and start to group the studies into the ones showing an adaptive component versus those that don’t a pattern starts to emerge: the studies of fatter individuals are the ones that don’t find an adaptive component while the ones in leaner (relatively speaking) folks do.  Basically, once you’re beyond a certain level of fatness, the body doesn’t fight back as hard.

In a related vein, one of the early leptin studies was looking at the impact of leptin levels on hunger during a diet.  They dieted folks and looked at how and whether or not hunger increased.  And what they found is part of the puzzle: so long as leptin was above a certain level (about 20-25 of whatever units leptin is measured in) there was no increase in hunger.  Below that level, hunger started to increase.

The reasons for this aren’t that important but the point is made: when dieters start above a certain BF%, perhaps 20-25% in men and 30-35% in women, the body won’t fight back as soon or as hard.   The metabolic perturbations that occur in lean individuals just don’t show up.   When you look at the BL contestants, most are likely in the 40-50% bodyfat range or higher.

In contrast, most of the folks for whom I hear of problems with lots of activity and big deficits occurring is in leaner (again, relatively) folks.  Exactly the group you’d expect there to be a bigger problem.

The Sheer Volume of Activity

The second issue I think is playing a role in the Biggest Loser situation is the sheer volume of activity.  Many of the contestants are being put through literally hours of fairly high intensity (at least judging by what’s shown on the show itself) on a daily basis.  Four to five hours per day (who knows, maybe more) is not uncommon.  It’s stupid but not uncommon.

And I think that’s the second piece of this puzzle.  Judging by some of the data, there seems to be a limit to how much the body can adapt to even the largest and most extreme deficits.  For example, in the now classic Minnesota Semi-Starvation Study, the study which found the largest drop in metabolic rate ever measured, the total drop was only about 40% (of which 25% was due to weight loss and the other 15% was the adaptive component).  Certainly this is large.

And I’d note that at one point in the study the subjects did stop losing weight at the predicted rate.  The reason?  Water retention.

However, it can still be overwhelmed by a sheer metric ton of activity such that even the metabolic problems caused by the combination of large deficits and high amounts of activity can be overcome.  However, again we’re working at the extremes.  Usually the folks reporting problems with the combination of lots of activity and big deficits are doing a couple of hours of hard exercise per day (or a lot of low intensity stuff).  That’s in addition to starting out leaner.

But that’s far different than the situation in the Biggest Loser contestants where, come hell or high water, they are doing hours and hours of pretty hard training every day without fail.  In this vein, some studies of military folks, often combining sleep deprivation, hours of forced activity, and pretty hard caloric restriction find that body fat levels drop rapidly to the lower limits of survival.  But again this is a situation far removed from the average exerciser doing a couple of hours activity per day.

I’d also point readers to the BL feedback article and note that the show uses a lot of behind the scenes manipulations to make the results look different than they are.  Among them is water manipulation.

The Exception that Proves the Rule

Clearly the Biggest Loser contestants are ‘getting away’ with something that would seem to be, on paper at least, bad.  Or at least in other less extreme populations (leaner folks doing far less activity) that causes problems.  But does that mean that the BL contestants are still doing things optimally?  That is, would a less extreme approach lead to even better results?

In the history of the Biggest Loser show, I can think of at least one or two situations where one of the contestants, usually for medical reasons, was limited to either very small amounts or very low intensity activities.  I’m thinking of one specific situation, might have been Biggest Loser Australia, where an older gentleman was put on medical restrictions.  It was either a cardiac issue or maybe an embolism.

And while everyone else on the show was just getting punished with these hours and hours of high-intensity activity and huge caloric restriction, he was limited to pretty low intensity stuff.  He also had one of the largest weight/fat losses on the show that year.  Might have won it all, I don’t recall.

In other situations, the folks who got sent home early, and who invariably did far less activity and/or used far less extreme deficits came back at the end of the show having far outstripped the contestants who were subjected to the abject stupidity of Bob and Jillian.  Those home-trained folks, the ones combining sane amounts of activity with larger caloric intakes got better results than the folks getting hammered at the extremes.

Does this prove anything?  Of course not.  But there just might be a lesson in there.

And I think all of these factors explain the disconnect.  The Biggest Loser constants are starting at an extremely high body fat percentage, may be doing so much activity that it overwhelms any adaptive factors that would impact on a leaner individual.  As well the show has the contestants manipulate water pretty hard.  And there are at least one or two anecdotal experiences of contestants still doing better with a less extreme approach.


Back Cycling Weights

Question: I’ve been stuck lifting certain weights for quite a while now and just started learning about back-cycling weights or doing deloads and building back up in order to break past previous maxes.

I was just wondering, why does this work? How much should you back cycle weights? Should you back-cycle everything at the same time or only lifts that are stalled? Can you do this indefinitely (back-cycle and build back up and just keep repeating, passing your maxes with each cycle)? Also it’d be nice to hear some of your random thoughts
about this concept, and plateauing in general. Thanks!

Answer: Ok, a lot going on here and this is going to be a fairly long answer for a Q&A.  First let’s define terms: Back-cycling in this context refers to a situation where someone deliberately backs off their work weights for some period of time before starting to work back up towards those previous maxes in an attempt to smash through them.

So, for example, someone who had been stuck at 200lbsX8 reps in the bench press (for example) might back up to 80% of that 160 lbs for 8 repetitions and then start working back up in some fashion.  How they work up isn’t that relevant although, as you’ll see, I’ll assume a fairly linear increase.  That isn’t required, one could just as easily work in an undulating fashion back towards their previous maxes.

Mind you, this is only one way to back-cycle but it’s the simplest; you drop back to the realm of 75-85% of your previous best weights and then work back up over some period of time.  How far you drop back and how long you take to build back up depends on a host of factors; one of the primary ones is the length of your training cycle.

As a generality, the longer the training cycle, the longer you spend working fairly submaximally before getting back to your previous maxes.  Many old-school powerlifters would do long 12-16 week cycles where they didn’t even attempt new maxes until the end; you can google Ed Coan’s training as an example of this.  Similarly, Hardgainer author John Christy (RIP) often recommended a 4-6 week submaximal buildup before trying to push past your previous maxes into new territories for months on end (he kept progress going by using small weights and lots of food).

By the same token, the shorter the cycle, the shorter the build-up period.  In my own generic bulking program for example, I use 6-8 week cycles.  It’s for intermediate trainees and I have folks take 2 weeks of sub-maximal work before pushing hard for PR’s for the next 4-6 weeks.  Then they back-cycle  and go again.

With that out of the way, let me address each of the above questions.  First off, why does this work?  There are at least two reasons.  The first has to do with something I won’t detail here called the Fitness-Fatigue model of adaptation.  Simply, training generates both fitness and fatigue and it’s the balance of the two that determines how well you express your fitness.

So for example say you do a hard workout and that increases fitness by 1%, but it also increases fatigue by 1%.  You won’t be any stronger until you rest and the fatigue goes away and the 1% can be ‘seen’.  An added principles is that fatigue goes away faster than fitness.  So when you rest, your fitness hangs around but as fatigue goes away you see the actual strength gains.  This is the basis of tapering for sports; you build up a lot of potential fitness over the cycle of training and then as you taper and let fatigue go away, performance increases.  Backcycling is sort of a taper.  Sort of.

This is similar to what happens when people return to training after a short (3-5 day) layoff, they often come back stronger. This is most likely due to the dissipation of fatigue that lets their strength fitness return.  So that’s probably part of it; someone who has been grinding along for weeks or months at the same weights who then drops back lets fatigue go away and they get stronger.  This shows up when they get back to their previous maxes.

Another issue and one that is often forgotten in the world of ‘go heavy or go home’ is that it’s not required to work at maximum to make gains in fitness.  For intermediates, as a a general rule, working in the realm of 80-85% (or 90%) of their best is sufficient to stimulate strength gains.  This is especially true if volume is increased somewhat.

An example will make this more clear. Say that fresh you can do that same 200X8 bench press for one all out set.  If it’s truly a limit set you’re not going to do more than 1 set of 8 with it although you might get multiple sets by dropping reps per set (or lowering the weight).

But let’s say you work in the realm of 170-180 (85-90%). You can probably get 3 or more work sets of 8 at this weight since it’s sub-maximal.  It’s work but you’re not grinding yourself out and you can get far more total repetitions than if you did the one maximum set at 200X8.  Alternately you might do 200X5 reps and get 3-4 sets (15-20 total repetitions vs 8 reps) because none of the sets are maximal.

And both of those approaches, to one degree or another will be stimulating strength gains.  Since this Q&A is about back-cycling, I’ll focus on the first one; just realize that dropping reps and maintaining weight is another way of back-cycling.

In any case, by dropping back to 160X8 for 3-4 sets, not only are you allowing fatigue from the previous training to go away, you’re still stimulating some strength gains.   Sure, maybe not as much as if you were grinding out 200X8 but gains nonetheless because you’re above the 80% threshold.  Then you go to 170X8 for multiple sets and you’re still stimulating strength gains.

Then 180X8, 190X8, 195X8 so that by the time you get back to 200X8, you’ve gotten stronger compared to where you started.   Stronger, such that 200X8 is no longer your maximum.  Which allows you to power through to a new level of strength.  And you might find that you keep making progress for some period of time until you come up against the place where fatigue has outstripped fitness.  Which is where you plateau and then back-cycle and start over.

In essence by back-cycling, you get back to a place where you can generate at least some strength gains without burning yourself out on maximum weights such that when you get back to your previous maximum level you can surpass it.  The old Hardgainer groups called this ‘gaining momentum’ but basically that’s all this is; you get your fitness moving upwards by working above a certain threshold (but below maximum) and that lets you power through old plateaus.

So that addresses the first question; don’t worry the second and third won’t take nearly as long.  The question of whether to back-cycle only stalled lifts or everything is one of those it depends areas.  Certainly some lifts tend to plateau before others; in general smaller muscle mass exercises seem to plateau sooner than larger muscle group exercises.  And it seems sort of illogical to back-cycle an exercise that is still gaining just because something unrelated has stalled.  Why stop making progress on squats or deads just because bench has stopped moving?

At the same time, you can’t separate everything from everything; there is overlap and all exercises impact on general functioning to one degree or another.  I’d generally say this: if you’re training without any sort of formal structure (i.e. the 2 week run-up to 4-6 weeks hard of my generic bulk), just back-cycle individual lifts as they stall out.  So if bench stalls, back-cycle it and run it back up; don’t back-cycle everything else.  If you are on something more formally structured, I think it’s better to back-cycle everything or stuff gets out of synch.

Finally, will this work indefinitely?  Probably not although I think it will work for more people than realize it for fairly long periods (throughout the intermediate years of training). If it did nobody would ever stop making gains and clearly this isn’t the case.   Eventually you get so close to your limits that you have to start using even more complex schemes to eke out the final bit of progress.   But you don’t need to worry about that until you get to that level.

Weighing to Track Body Composition

Question: I read of wave_length’s method of weighing yourself for body recomposition.

Basically, his method was to weigh himself everyday. If he was under his target weight, he’d eat two meals. If over, he’d just skip his last meal. He takes a protein shake w/ 100g whey and makes sure he hits at least 1g/lb of LBM everyday.  Will this work for recomposition?

Answer: While I have no clue what or who a wave_length is, here are my answers.

Short answer: no, this won’t work.

Long answer: This is stupid on so many levels I’m not sure where to start.

First and foremost, the entire point of using body composition is that changes in weight per se can’t really tell you anything.   There are exceptions of course: in the extremely obese for example, most weight loss will be fat assuming a few criteria (basic weight training, protein) are met.   In that case, the scale is sufficient since weight losses will indicate fat losses.

But for lean and/or trained individuals, body weight changes alone tells you literally nothing because a change in weight might represent a change in any number of things: muscle, fat, water, glycogen, you took a big dump, you didn’t take a big dump, etc.  A change in weight doesn’t tell you anything meaningful.  I address In any case, this is problem one with this approach: scale weight is basically useless to track actual body composition changes under most circumstances.

Problem two is this: day-to-day changes in weight aren’t meaningful under the majority of circumstances.   Here are a few examples.  If you are on a low-sodium intake and eat a bunch of salt you will gain several pounds of water weight.  If you’re on a high-sodium diet and cut sodium, you will drop several pounds.

If you eat less vegetables on a given day, your weight will go down after you dump out all of the undigested food residue from your colon.  Enemas work through the same mechanism.Gorge on high-fiber, high-residue foods and your weight will go up because you have more waste moving through your colon.  Cut carbs a lot and you will drop water like a mad-man and weight will plummet.

Do a high-volume glycogen depleting workout and the same can happen.  Do the workout with low carbs and body-weight can drop by a number of kilos from water loss.  A coach/friend of mine uses this approach with athletes who need to make weight, he can drop 1-2.5 kg off of them in a matter of HOURS with the combination of lowered carbs and a hard glycogen-depleting workout.

All of these can acutely affect weight on a day to day basis but NONE of them are indicative of actual changes in muscle mass or fat mass (which happen on a longer time scale under most circumstance especially in the lean and/or trained).  Not to mention that the previous day’s adjustment is going to affect the next day’s scale weight measurement anyhow.  If you skip dinner on a day when your weight is up, you’re going to weigh less the next morning BECAUSE YOU SKIPPED DINNER and have less food in your gut.  But it’s got nothing to do with actual body composition changes.

The bottom line is this: adjusting your diet daily based on scale weight changes is simply an idiotic way to do anything.  All you’ll do is spin your wheels by adjusting calories up and down and up and down in a pointless fashion based on a meaningless measurement that is being affected by the wheel spinning caloric adjustments days to day.

Should I Eat More Fat to Burn Fat?

Question: I’ve often seen it claimed that one needs to ‘eat fat to burn fat’ and that this is one of the advantages of low-carbohydrate diets.  But, like so many myths in the diet world, I’m wondering if this is actually true.  Is it?

Answer: The short answer, as you might have guessed is no.  Now, as always, here’s the longer answer.

I suspect that the idea that one needed to eat fat to burn fat came out of a misunderstanding of some of the early literature on low-carbohydrate/high-fat/ketogenic diets (note: I’m defining a ketogenic diet here as any diet that contains less than 100 grams of dietary carbohydrate; a topic discussed in more detail in my first book The Ketogenic Diet).

In those studies, there was clearly an increase in the body’s use of fat for fuel (indicated by a large scale decrease in something called the respiratory exchange ratio or RER) and I have a hunch that people assumed that it was the huge increase in dietary fat that was driving the increase in fat burning.

The key to understand is that fat burning in the body is not really related to fat intake.    Rather, dietary carbohydrate intake is the primary determinant.  That is, the act of eating dietary fat doesn’t usually have a major impact on how much fat you burn.   I say “not usually” as some studies find that very high fat intakes (like 80 grams all at once) have a small effect on fat oxidation by the body. But for the most part, how much fat the body burns during the day is related primarily to carbohydrate intake, secondarily to protein intake, and almost not at all to dietary fat intake itself.

Also consider that the following three conditions:

  1. Complete fasting (no food intake at all)
  2. A high-fat, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (e.g. 30% protein, 65% fat, 5% carbohydrate)
  3. A protein sparing modified fast (PSMF, such as my own Rapid Fat Loss Handbook)

All generate basically the identical shift in the body’s fuel utilization: a decrease in resting RER indicating a shift to using predominantly fat for fuel.  Again I say basically since both the ketogenic diet and the PSMF will be marginally different than complete fasting due to the intake of dietary protein.  But for the most part, the shift in fuel use by the body is identical in all three conditions, you see a huge drop in RER indicating a massive increase in the use of dietary fat for fuel.

And the commonality in all of those conditions is not the presence or absence of dietary fat (diets 1 and 3 have little or no dietary fat, diet 2 has quite a bit).   Rather, it’s the lack of dietary carbohydrates.   Which, based on what we know about how the body determines fuel usage makes sense.  As I discussed in the linked articles above, when you eat more carbs, you burn more carbs (and less fat); eat fewer carbs and you burn fewer carbs (and more fat). Which means that in all three conditions above it’s the absence of dietary carbohydrates driving the increase in fat burning, not the presence of dietary fat.

Which isn’t to say that increasing dietary fat intake under some conditions can’t have benefits (such as increased fullness, food enjoyment or flexibility, limiting the daily deficit to moderate levels if that’s the goal, etc.) and that comparing the diets to one another one more issues than just fat loss is worth doing.   It’s simply that increasing fat burning per se simply isn’t one of them; rather, that’s accomplished by reducing carbohydrates and total caloric intake.

Hope that answers your question.

Lean Body Mass Maintenance and Metabolic Slowdown

Question: I am a little confused when it comes to metabolic slowdown. The reason for my confusion is that as far as I can figure, if my LBM remains approximately the same throughout the diet, then my energy expenditure should also remain basically the same.  Granted, maintaining LBM is difficult but for arguments sake let’s assume that LBM is maintained within a +/- 5% range. So for an individual with 150lbs of LBM that amounts to 7.5lbs. My assertion(correct or not) is that metabolic slowdown cannot occur beyond what that 7.5lbs of LBM used in the first place?

Is this a faulty assumption? I’ve read on many a website that the body goes into “starvation mode”, however that argument doesn’t sit well with me. Either the body requires X amount of energy to function, or it doesn’t. I think “starvation mode” might simply be reduced activity in general, so for a relatively insane individual (read:athlete) who is willing to push hard on a restrictive diet, metabolic slowdown shouldn’t be an issue?

Answer: I suspect that some of this comes down to an issue of semantics (you sort of get to part of what I’m going to talk about in your second paragraph) but some of it doesn’t.  The short answer to your question is that your assumption isn’t entirely correct; even with 100% maintenance of lean body mass (LBM) there can still be some metabolic slowdown.  Now here’s the longer answer.

First and foremost, we need to define some terms and what’s meant by metabolic rate since I suspect that’s part of where some of the confusion is coming from.  On a daily basis, an individual’s total daily energy expenditure is given by four components:

  1. Resting/Basal Metabolic Rate (RMR/BMR; what I suspect you’re referring to above)
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
  3. Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)
  4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)/Spontaneous Physical Activity (SPA).

The distinction between 3 and 4 is that TEA refers to formal exercise while NEAT are calories burned in all activities that are not formal exercise.  NEAT encompasses both unconscious activities such as fidgeting along with daily life activities such as walking, gardening, etc.    NEAT is highly variable and may explain a great deal of the variation in fat gain with overfeeding.

Now, each of the above is determined by various factors including body composition, diet, etc.  And all of them are affected by dieting and the loss of body mass.  Studies have repeatedly shown that individuals who have been dieted down to a given weight will have a lower than predicted metabolic rate compared to someone who didn’t diet to that weight.  That is, someone who ‘naturally’ weighs 200 pounds will have a higher total energy expenditure than someone who dieted down to 200 pounds.

Why Does Metabolic Rate Slow?

So what’s causing this reduction in total energy expenditure.  A majority of the ‘metabolic slowdown’ that occurs is due simply to the loss of body mass.  Because larger bodies burn more calories (both at rest and during activities) and smaller bodies burn less.

But that’s not the only cause of metabolic slowdown here.  There is also an adaptive component of metabolic rate slowdown that is mediated by changes in hormones: leptin, insulin, thyroid, catecholamines.  As these change (decrease) on a diet, you find that tissues burn fewer calories per unit mass.  I’d mention that not all studies find this, about half do and half don’t.  That is, your assumption that a given body composition always burns the identical number of calories on a day to day basis isn’t entirely correct.

Of course, an important question is how much of a change this amounts to.  During active weight loss, the impact is relatively greater (because hormones tend to be more greatly affected); at weight maintenance (once a person has stabilized), the impact isn’t huge.  In some studies of the post-obese (folks who have been dieted down and maintained at that weight) show a relatively modest 5% or so reduction in RMR.  The effect exists but is not massive.  It’s also highly variable, with people showing relatively more or less of an effect.

It’s honestly looking like changes in NEAT are contributing a much larger component of changes in daily energy expenditure than anything else.     So basically you’re both correct and incorrect.  The greatest impact on total daily energy expenditure certainly appears to be due to decreased spontaneous activity during the day. However, there is also an added component of a reduction in resting energy expenditure due to changes in RMR, even with complete maintenance of lean body mass.  Some of this is due to simply being smaller, some of it is an adaptive reduction in metabolic rate due to shifting hormone levels (which, again, not all studies find).

Training When Sick

Question: Hi, I was wondering if it was ok to go work out when I was sick?  Do you have any guidelines for this?

Answer: First I’d like to start with an old joke.

Q: Which is faster, heat or cold?
A: Heat, because it’s easy to catch a cold.

Ok, with that out of the way, some commentary on training when sick.  This seems especially relevant now that’s it’s winter and people are often carrying around various bugs that they can pass to one another (and I’m not just talking about drunken make out sessions at the office Christmas party that makes everybody uncomfortable the next day).  This was something we dealt with constantly in Salt Lake City; since we skated on a big ice oval, the air was pretty stagnant and anybody who carried a bug to the oval often gave it to everyone else.  Which brings me to my first point.

When you’re sick and especially when you’re contagious, do everyone a favor and stay out of the gym.  Here’s why: it’s selfish as hell of you to put everyone else at risk of being sick.  Yes, we all know that you’re body obsessed and addicted to training.  But it’s not all about you, believe it or not.

I’m as sociopathic as the next guy (perhaps a touch moreso) but making a bunch of other people sick by being a selfish asshole is just rude.  Gyms are a veritable haven of germs to begin with and making a bunch of other people sick because you’re too neurotic to miss a single day of training is bullshit.  If you’re contagious, stay home.

But let’s assume that you’re not contagious, or you train at home, or whatever makes my paragraph above irrelevant. Can you train when sick? More importantly should you?  Finally, if you can and want to, what should you actually do?

And the answer to the first question is that it depends.  The general rule of thumb is that if your sick is only in your neck or above (e.g. stuffy nose, sneezing, headache, sore throat; basically the stuff that Nyquil fixes), you’re cleared to train.  It may not be much fun but you can train.

However, if the sick has moved lower, such as a chest cough or chest cold, the general advice is to avoid training.  I’ll be honest that I forget the exact reason for this, something to do with it getting much worse.  I think you could cause real problems.  Again I forget offhand and it doesn’t really matter; just take my word for it.

But that’s the general rule: if it’s neck or above, you can train; below the neck and you should skip training.

But even if you can, should you train?  Again, the answer is that it depends.  But here it depends more on you and less on the fact that you’re sick.  It depends on whether or not you have any self-control.  Because if you don’t, you better not train unless you want to make it worse.

To explain that I have to bore you with a bit of physiology and how exercise affects the immune system.  Simply, exercise and immune system function have a rather complex relationship.  It’s actually described by what is called an inverted-U shaped dose response curve. Essentially people who get no exercise tend to have poorer immune system function than folks who train some; but people who train excessively tend to impair their immune system.

Especially acutely.  People who do very intensive or extensive (duration) training often find themselves getting sick afterwards.  Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI’s) are endemic among marathoners for example. But it’s not that the event makes you sick.  Rather, extreme workouts tend to impair immune system function; if you are then exposed to some sick, you’re more likely to pick it up.  Basically there’s a window of vulnerability that occurs after extreme training that briefly impairs immune system function.

Over a decade ago (man, I’m old), I found empirically that a reasonably short, moderate intensity workout (talking 20-40 minutes at a middling intensity, either cardio or the weight room) usually helped me get over being sick.  That is, sitting around didn’t help and working too hard made it worse.  But a moderate workout helped me get over it faster.  When I’d start to feel something coming on, I’d go do a moderate workout and that would help.

As laid out in Supplements Part 2, I’ve found in recent years that megadosing glutamine and Vitamin C helps folks get past stuff so long as they start with it at the first sign of being sick. I also have what I call The Cure ™ but I have to keep some secrets so you don’t get to know about it yet.

Anyhow, research later showed up to support my observation: moderate intensity and volume activity bumps up immune system function while no exercise or too much/too intense activity impairs immune system function.   Which brings us to you.

If you have the self-control to go to the gym and do a moderate duration moderate intensity workout, not only is it ok, it will probably make you get better more quickly.  But if you lack the self-control to keep it in your pants, and feel compelled do stay in the gym forever or blow your brains out with intensity, you’re going to make it worse.  If that’s the case, you should stay the hell home and maybe get a self-help book on impulse control.

And that also tells you how you can/should train if you choose to (and can stay in control). You must keep both the duration and intensity moderate.  Again, if you can’t do that, stay at home and get someone to bring you soup.  It worked for grandma and it will work for you.

If you do cardio, keep the intensity in the easy aerobic range (130-150 HR).  Thirty to forty minutes tops.   Don’t even think about intervals.   Just nice moderate steady-state cardio.  The kind that everyone says is ineffective and makes you fat but which seems to do nothing but create great athletes and leanness.  Yeah, that.

If you lift, keep it far away from failure and moderate volume and intensity.  Like 80% of your maximum capacity for a handful of sets.  Just get in, get your pump on and get out of the gym.

And if you can’t show that much self-control, stay the hell out of the gym.  Because if you go in and destroy yourself, you’re going to make it worse.  Then you won’t just have missed a day or two of training while you got over the sick naturally, you’ll get real sick and miss a week or more.  And it’ll be your own fault for being stupid with poor impulse control.



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